Friday, November 30, 2012

Pat Robertson Goes Rogue

In a response to a question on the 700 Club, Pat Robertson, head of CBN and Regent University in Virginia Beach, caused many jaws to drop when he remarked that the standard young earth creationism model is not all its cracked up to be. Dan Merica of CNN comments:
The statement was in response to a question Robertson fielded Tuesday from a viewer on his Christian Broadcasting Network show "The 700 Club.” In a submitted question, the viewer wrote that one of her biggest fears was that her children and husband would not go to heaven “because they question why the Bible could not explain the existence of dinosaurs.”

“You go back in time, you've got radiocarbon dating. You got all these things, and you've got the carcasses of dinosaurs frozen in time out in the Dakotas,” Robertson said. “They're out there. So, there was a time when these giant reptiles were on the Earth, and it was before the time of the Bible. So, don't try and cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years. That's not the Bible.”

Before answering the question, Robertson acknowledged the statement was controversial by saying, “I know that people will probably try to lynch me when I say this.”

“If you fight science, you are going to lose your children, and I believe in telling them the way it was,” Robertson concluded.
This is, of course, exactly contrary to the teachings of Ken Ham, who argues that it is because we aren't teaching creationism that we are losing our children. Robertson's statement is also a paraphrased restatement of what Kenneth Miller once said: Never bet against science.

Interestingly, while the CNN author attempts to tie in the rest of the article with acceptance of evolution, Robertson doesn't say that. He says that he doesn't accept the recent earth model.

This will make waves in both camps and there will be much hand-wringing among young earth supporters.  Humorously, the The Daily Kos' headline reads: “A Sign of The End Times? Pat Robertson throws the Young Earthers under the bus.”

Whether this counts as a renunciation or simply a public statement of long-held beliefs, I am not sure. That this is big news, however, is unquestionable.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trying to get moved from one house to another, finish up the semester in the next week and finish a BioLogos post.  Not much time for blogging at the moment.  More soon.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Governor Jindal: Please Practice What You Preach

Herb Silverman has written an editorial in the Washington Post that is likely to hack off any readers of the Intelligent Design persuasion.  It is called "The Stupid Party" and deals with the GOP's fraternization with ID.  As much as I hate to agree with the Post's generally left-of-center arguments, he is right.  He writes:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal recently urged his Republican Party to “stop being the stupid party.” In order to win elections, he also advised Republicans to reject anti-intellectualism. While this sounds like an excellent step forward, it will depend on their interpretation of “stupid” and “anti-intellectualism.”

This is the same Jindal who, in 2008, signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which also sounds good on the surface. The act allows local school boards to approve supplemental materials for public school science classes as they discuss evolution, cloning and global warming.

Though marketed as support for critical thinking in classrooms, the law was actually designed to open the door to teach creationism and scientifically unwarranted critiques of evolution in Louisiana public school science classes.
If you will remember, the signing of that bill resulted in the law of unintended consequences taking effect. First, the Society of Comparative and Integrative Biology packed up its tent and moved its annual meetings to utah. Then the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology asked the Louisiana legislature to repeal the law, New Orleans CityBusiness wrote that the bill's passage has hurt business in the state, and then, the coup de grace, Livingston Parish elected to test the limits of the bill by attempting to introduce creationism into the school curriculum. Louisiana became persona non grata in the scientific world and the whole escapade reminded your average voter that the anti-science problems that the GOP hav historically had, have not gone away. 

The GOP must take a hard pro-science position and integrate it into its platform, so that when people hear the views of congressman Paul Broun, who won re-election handily, they will recognize them for the dreck that they are. 

Slightly Off-Topic: A PSA From the Australian Metro

This video, which is actually a public service announcement from the Australian Metro service (and referred to by Hot Air as the Unofficial Darwin Award's Theme Song) is a reminder of the shallow end of the gene pool.  It is called "Dumb Ways to Die."




Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Eugenie Scott at UT Tonight

Eugenie Scott, the director of NCSE will be at McClung Museum tonight giving a talk on evolution and climate science.  I have the flu so will not be able to be there.  She is a very good speaker.  The talk begins at 6:00. 

Friday, November 09, 2012

Judge Sides With NASA and JPL over Coppedge

Newsvine writes:
Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige issued a tentative ruling Thursday saying he was leaning toward finding in favor of JPL, which had argued at trial that David Coppedge was let go because he was combative and did not keep his skills sharp, not because of his belief that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone.
Concerning ID, and the fact that the prosecution made that the focal point of their case, the judge seems to have carefully worded his ruling:
"It does not specify the court's reasoning and it would be foolhardy to discern from its general language that the court had anything to say about the validity of intelligent design as a scientific theory or as a religious belief," Becker said. "We don't believe it was about religious belief, but David's co-workers perceived it as one and that's equally offensive under the law."
About Coppedge, they continue:
At trial, JPL attorney Cameron Fox contended Coppedge was a stubborn and disconnected employee who decided not to heed warnings to get additional training, even when it became clear the Cassini mission would be downsized and computer specialist positions eliminated.

Coppedge often was confrontational and insensitive to customers and colleagues, who had complained about his behavior and his advocacy of intelligent design, Fox said.
This tracks with testimony given about the tenure of Coppedge at JPL. People typically don't care what you believe if you are hard to get along with. They just want you gone. A very unfortunate situation. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

What Does The Origin of Life Say About Religion?

Paul O'Donoghue, writing for the Irish Times asks about The ever evolving nature of scepticism. He writes:
Scientists have from time to time been accused of scientism, that is, presuming that science can do no wrong and that it will eventually provide the answers to any questions worth answering. Such accusations have come from traditional opponents of science such as the creationist movement, but the downside of scientism has been pointed out in a more balanced way by others.

Massimo Pigliucci, in his book Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism and the Nature of Science, points critically to episodes of scientism in the writings of well-known and respected scientists such as physicist Steven Weinberg and biologist EO Wilson. Weinberg is scathingly critical of philosophy describing it as a waste of time and even as detrimental to science.
This was tackled some years back by a trio of authors from Calvin College in a book called Science Held Hostage, published by Intervarsity Press (when they were somewhat more open-minded than they currently are). This outlined three instances in which creationism was way off base, scientifically and then how scientists overreached their bounds in declaring no evidence for God. In it, they plead for all to leave science to the scientists and not try to use it to further either a theistic or atheistic cause.I thought the book to be very insightful and one that should sit on the bookshelf of every Christian.  Sadly, it has gone in and out of print in recent years and was not easy to find the last time I checked.

It is interesting that he mentions the somewhat conciliatory position taken by Pigliucci with regard to scientism because just a bit later in the article, we find that Pigliucci is letting scientism in the back door.  He writes:
Pigliucci, in an article in the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, points out three reasons as to why an answer to this question is particularly important. Firstly, definitively ascertaining that life originated by natural means would have profound implications for any religious belief, further shrinking the role of any god in human affairs.
How? Given that we live in a physical universe, with physical laws and consequences of them, how else would it start? For those of us who believe in God and don't subscribe to a creation model of "divine fiat," it makes perfect sense for God to have created life in this fashion. Finding this out doesn't shrink God any more than it proclaims from the highest mountain tops that He exists. It just is. We take it on faith that this is God's means of creation. Despite his position earlier, Pigliucci has conflated ultimate causes with proximate causes and he tips his hand when he writes this.

O'Donoghue is correct that we may have the question of the origins of life with us for some time.  Despite what the folks at the Discovery Institute might say, this is no obstacle to evolution.   Even if there was evidence that the earliest life dropped down out of the sky, there is still mountains of evidence that it evolved since that time. 

Friday, November 02, 2012

Asking the Provocative Question: "Who Didn't Have Sex With Neandertals?"

FoxNews also has an article on the North African evidence for Neandertal/modern hybridization. Charles Choi writes:
"The only modern populations without Neanderthal admixture are the sub-Saharan groups," said researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox, a paleogeneticist at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at Barcelona, Spain.

The researchers say their findings do not suggest that Neanderthals entered Africa and made intimate contact with ancient North Africans. Rather, "what we are saying is that the contact took place outside Africa, likely in the Near East, and that there was a back migration into Africa of some groups that peopled North Africa, likely replacing or assimilating some ancestral populations," Lalueza-Fox told LiveScience.
If there was a back-migration into Africa then the interbreeding had to have been significant enough to establish some sort of Neandertal/modern hybrid genome that can be picked up now, some seventy to one hundred thousand years later.  These were no one-night stands.  It may lend credence to Trinkaus' arguments about Lagar Velho, in Portugal being a result of long-term interbreeding.  This may have been happening everywhere.  Somewhere, I hope Fred Smith is smiling.  

Slightly Off-Topic

There are many, many things worse for science in this world than young earth creationism.  Witness what is going on in Eritrea. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Neandertal/Modern Human Hybridization in North Africa?

That is the focus of a new paper in PLoS ONE by Sanchez and colleagues.  Using 780 thousand single nucleotide polymorphisms of 125 individuals from populations in North Africa, they write:
We found that North African populations have a significant excess of derived alleles shared with Neandertals, when compared to sub-Saharan Africans. This excess is similar to that found in non-African humans, a fact that can be interpreted as a sign of Neandertal admixture. Furthermore, the Neandertal's genetic signal is higher in populations with a local, pre-Neolithic North African ancestry. Therefore, the detected ancient admixture is not due to recent Near Eastern or European migrations. Sub-Saharan populations are the only ones not affected by the admixture event with Neandertals.
Well, raise my rent! When we analyzed the modern human remains in the Near East using canonical variates analysis, we found that they showed more of a similarity with North African archaics than they did Neandertals and that this supported a model of a general northern migration of North Africans into the Levant between 100 and 200 thousand years ago. I will be interested to see the reaction to this from the morphologists.

Ironically, the bulk of the evidence supporting the admixture of modern humans and Neandertals has always been based on the fossil record, while the genetic evidence has traditionally been used to argue for a recent African origin. It is interesting to see all of the genetic studies that have turned the tables. There is not a specific level of admixture at which point you can say "hey, these are the same species," but the studies continue to come out suggesting that admixture was taking place wherever these two groups intermingled and that there do not seem to have been biological imperatives to mate.  They simply decided to do so.  Remember the sage words of J. Lawrence Angel: "When two groups of people meet, they may fight but they willl always mate."